Preview: Ute Lemper brings genuine European Cabaret to the Colonial

Ute Lemper is arguably the world's greatest cabaret artist working today.

The set list for Ute Lemper’s show Last Tango in Berlin includes just about all the greatest hits of European Cabaret. It includes classic Kurt Weill gems such as Pirate Jennie, chansons francaises et internationales such as Milord and Accordeoniste which Piaf made eternal, and even Jacque Brel’s story song about Amsterdam. These nightclub favorites will be sung side by side with Marlene Dietrich’s Lilli Marleen and Falling in Love Again as well as the challenging works of Ástor Pantaleón Piazzolla. For lovers of intimate music, this promises to be one of the most amazing evenings of the Berkshire summer season. Part of that is the simple fact that Ute Lemper is a classic, a one of a kind who rarely has an opportunity to find equally sophisticated audiences outside of the big cities.And it is not often that a singer is as superb in English as in French or German.

Synopsis: Ute Lemper will bring her show Last Tango in Berlin to the Colonial on August 27 at 8PM. Tickets are $55 and $35 and can be purchased in person at the Colonial Ticket Office at 111 South Street Monday-Friday 10AM-5PM, performance Saturdays 10AM-2PM, by calling (413) 997-4444 or online at

Ute Lemper’s performing career grows out of a passionate and enduring commitment to art, politics and history, and out of a contentious and complicated relationship with her homeland and its past. Her panache, versatility and sophisticated repertoire—including Berlin cabaret songs and the dark gems of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill—have led her to international acclaim as a recording artist and in the theatre, cabaret and film worlds.

Ms. Lemper was born in Münster, Germany in 1963. After graduation from the Dance Academy in Cologne and the Max Reinhardt Seminary Drama School in Vienna, she started performing in Stuttgart with roles in plays by Fassbinder and others. She went on to dazzle audiences in Europe and worldwide in musical theatre roles: Velma Kelly in Chicago (London, New York, Las Vegas), Lola in The Blue Angel, Peter in Peter Pan (both in Berlin), Cats in Vienna and Sally Bowles in Jérôme Savary’s Paris production of Cabaret. Yet she has returned again and again to the dark, complex and powerfully creative German past, in solo concerts like Kurt Weill Recital and Berlin Cabaret Evening, in symphony concerts, including The Seven Deadly Sins and Songs from Kurt Weill; in Pina Bausch’s Kurt Weill Revue; and on the discs Ute Lemper Sings Kurt Weill (Vols. I & II), The Threepenny Opera, The Seven Deadly Sins, Mahagonny Songspiel and Berlin Cabaret Songs (comprising works of songwriters censored or persecuted by the National Socialists).

Ms. Lemper’s performing credits include: the London Symphony Orchestra (Kent Nagano); Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (Zubin Mehta); London Philharmonic Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and Berlin Symphony Orchestra (all with John Mauceri); San Francisco Symphony (Michael Tilson Thomas); and National Symphony Orchestra (Leonard Slatkin). In 2004 she undertook a three week tour of Europe with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, returning to New York for a sold-out performance at Carnegie Hall. She has also performed with the Chicago, Milwaukee and Colorado Symphonies as well as the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.

In addition to her symphony appearances, Ms. Lemper has been presented in recital at many prestigious venues around the world, including: Alice Tully Hall, (New York); Tanglewood (Massachusetts); Orchestra Hall (Chicago); the Michigan Theatre (Ann Arbor); Davies Hall (San Francisco); Royce Hall (Los Angeles); Teatro della Scala (Milan); Théâtre de la Ville, Théâtre National de Chaillot, Les Bouffes du Nord (Paris); Barbican, Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall (London); and the Sydney Opera House (Australia).

Ute Lemper

Although she is perhaps best known as the world’s leading interpreter of the music of the Weimar Republic era, Ms. Lemper’s edgy aesthetic and repertoire also reach far beyond Germany. Though she says “I cannot stress enough my life’s journey exploring repertoire inspired by art of the Weimar Republic,” she points out that this art also “reflects other philosophical and cultural horizons, other political matters, and other times.” In order fully to explore and comprehend the history she has inherited, Ms. Lemper has naturally and with brilliant success taken up material from other European traditions and from the United States. (To take just one example, Chicago’s ironic celebration of “Razzle Dazzle” is of a piece with Mischa Spoliansky’s and Marcellus Schiffer’s happily cynical 1920s cabaret song “It’s all a swindle.”) Ms. Lemper has explored extensively the French chanson of Edith Piaf, Jacques Prévert, Joseph Kosma and Serge Gainsbourg to the Belgian poet Jacques Brel. She has also explored the contemporary alternative rock repertoire—from Tom Waits and Elvis Costello to Nick Cave on her Punishing Kiss album—and finally created her own original material which can be heard on the latest album But One Day….

Ms. Lemper’s solo concerts also reflect these pan-European and international interests. These concerts include Songs from Piaf & DietrichIllusions (also material associated with Piaf and Dietrich); Songbook, consisting of settings by English minimalist Michael Nyman of texts by Romanian Holocaust poet Paul Celan; and City of Strangers, with chansons of Jacques Prévert side by side with the Broadway of Stephen Sondheim. Not surprisingly, in 1994, Ms. Lemper was named Billboard magazine’s Crossover Artist of the Year, though when you listen to her, the idea of crossover melts away; it’s simply Ms. Lemper’s sensibility: penetrating, adventurous, sophisticated, and charged with multiple meanings. Also on Ms. Lemper’s awards shelf: A 1998 Olivier for the London production of Chicago (she can be heard on the original London cast recording) and a Molière Award for Best Actress for Savary’s Cabaret. She also won an American Theater Award for her performance in Chicago on Broadway, an Italian Primo Tenco award for her recordings, and numerous other international recording awards.

IllusionsSongbook and City of Strangers all came from Ms. Lemper’s eponymous recordings for Decca. For CBS Records she recorded the sumptuous, trilingual Crimes of the Heart (now available on Musicrama); Life is a Cabaret; and Ute Lemper Live. For Polydor: Espace IndecentNuits Étranges; and She Has a Heart (the latter being the recorded but never released English version of the Espace Indécent album). Ms. Lemper also sings on Decca’s Prospero’s Books, Michael Nyman’s recording of music for the film by Peter Greenaway (in which Ms. Lemper appeared), and she mixed songs of Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Nick Cave, Philip Glass, Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon and others on her 2000 release, Punishing Kiss.

Of her recent evolution as an artist, particularly as a recording artist, Ms. Lemper says, “Beyond the historical recordings I have found my way into my own compositions and storytelling, inspired by themusic and literature of the Paris existentialists of the 1960s to off-beat contemporary rock writers like Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Scott Walker, Elvis Costello and Divine Comedy. It has been an incredible satisfaction to produce my own work with a great team of people.”

Coincident with her London run in Chicago, Ms. Lemper released All That Jazz: The Best of Ute Lemper, on which she let Kander and Ebb, Brecht and Weill, Gershwin, Piaf, Nyman and Celan, and Spolianksy and Schiffer all easily and revealingly cohabit. In Autumn 2002, Decca released Ms. Lemper’s But One Day…. She spent two years on this album, which mixes works of Weill, Hans Eisler, Jacques Brel and Astor Piazzolla, with five compositions by Ms. Lemper herself (one inspired by a Brecht text.) She describes the record as “falling through the sky of a century of music,” and calls her work on it, “an act of love, against all odds with a total belief that contemporary music has an alternative state of beauty not arising out of the clean computer, but out of human performances. I envisioned string arrangements inspired by Ravel and Debussy in harmony with contemporary cool grooves telling these cinematic stories. And the voyage continues!”

In 2007 Ms. Lemper undertook another world tour, with dates in Europe, Japan, South America and the United States. The But One Day Orchestra accompanies her, and she will also sing with Robert Ziegler’s “Matrix Ensemble,” featured on Berlin Cabaret Songs. She created a new show, Nomad, with Robert Carsen for the Chatelet Theatre in Paris. Nomad takes its audience through the past century’s incidences of oppression, starting in Berlin, then moving through Hungarian, Jewish, Arab, Romany, South American and Russian cultures. Ms. Lemper insists on presenting some of these songs in her concerts as they evoke an important political journey.

“While touring But One Day worldwide for many months,” she says, “I kept experiencing music as an expression of the heart in the search for ultimate freedom and peace. Highly inspired by the project, Nomad, I just created with opera director Robert Carsen in Paris, I am now taking a look at Eastern European and Middle Eastern music. Based on this, I am currently writing new, original material for the next recording, and interpreting a whole different universe of songs. My partner, co-producer, percussionist and best friend, Todd Turkisher, is working with me at the root of this adventure.”

Ms. Lemper’s extraordinarily supple and expressive voice is not her only creative outlet. In musicals she has, of course, also danced, and Maurice Béjart created a ballet for her, La Mort Subite, which premiered in Paris in 1990. Her paintings have been shown at the German Consulate in New York, the Goethe Institute in Washington and at the Théâtre de la Ville in Paris.

Ms. Lemper and her three children, Max, Stella and Julian have had a home base in New York City for almost 10 years. Like Weill, Lemper is a German expatriate living in the United States. Unlike Weill and some of his contemporaries, Ms. Lemper is an expatriate by choice, and is hesitant ever to move back to Germany, but she revisits her culture fearlessly and brilliantly in art. “As a performer,” she says, “I like to breathe and live inside the centers of chaos in the worlds of today and yesterday. The longing for a place of harmony and the search for spiritual freedom lives through my new stories and melodies will always, though, keep Berlin alive with contemporary and nostalgic eyes,” she reminds us, “as the lust and anarchy of Weimar shall live forever.”

“It’s the voice — a sexy contralto that can bring you to tears in a single note. If you’ve heard chanteuse Ute Lemper, you cannot forget her. Though her musical identity was forged by the songs of the Weimar, the dark genius of Brecht and Weill, she is equally adept at heartbreak — from alt-rock king Tom Waits to Jacques Brel’s ‘Ne Me Quitte Pas.’ The woman defines torch, which is why she boasts an international following.”—

“The German singer Ute Lemper gave the festivities a feel of Berlin legitimacy with extraordinary renditions of ‘Lilly Marlene’ and ‘Mackie Messer’ (‘Mack the Knife’), and a pre-event benefit party managed to suggest the cabaret scene that we still associate with another era’s Berlin.”—The Wall Street Journal

Ute Lemper: Last Tango In Berlin
Set List (Subject to Change)

Falling In Love Again (Hollaender)
Lilli Marleen (Schulze /Leip)
Accordeoniste ( Emer)

Tango Ballade (Brecht/ Weill)

Bilbao Song (Brecht/ Weill)
Pirate Jenny (Brecht / Weill)
Yo Soy Maria (Piazzolla)
Chiquillin (Piazzolla)
Pajaros Perdidos (Piazzolla)

Preludio (Piazzolla/ Lemper)
Ballada Para Un Locco ( Piazzolla/ Lemper)

Koffer In Berlin
Moritat Von Mecky Messer (Brecht/ Weill/ Kander / Ebb)

Milord (Moustaki)
Amsterdam (Brel)

Tickets for the performance are $55 and $35 and can be purchased in person at the Colonial Ticket Office at 111 South Street Monday-Friday 10AM-5PM, performance Saturdays 10AM-2PM, by calling (413) 997-4444 or online at

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